What It’s Like to Go on a Luxury Amazon River Cruise
African safaris and Maldivian honeymoons may top the lists of most intrepid travelers, but we’ve got a fresh adventure to add: a Peruvian Amazon river cruise. Not to cheapen the experience with a cliché, but cruising down the world’s longest river and making stops to explore pockets of the 2.1-million-mile tropical rainforest is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Here, fresh off her own trip to the Peruvian Amazon, JS contributor Chelsea Stuart gives us a glimpse at what it’s like.
It’s sometime around 6 or 7 pm when the sun starts to rapidly set over Nauta Caño and the shallow blackwater tributary we’re anchored in. My 10-person skiff spent the late afternoon fishing for piranha in the Peruvian Amazon offshoot with poles fashioned from long sticks, thin fishing line, and hooks baited with tempting sirloin steak. Now, since we’ve caught a few dozen razor-toothed fish and the sky has started to darken, we’re gearing up for a night safari.
Tonight, we’re trawling the river for caiman—nocturnal, predatory relatives of the alligator, best spotted in the dark when their red eyes give them away in the wake of a flashlight beam. We motor slowly and quietly through the water, careful not to scare them off with engine noise or excited chatter. I’m a little nervous given that the sky is now pitch black and I have no idea how big they’ll be or just how close they’ll get. Our skiff is only 2 feet or so above water, so it seems entirely plausible that they could hop on board if they felt inclined.
Using a huge flashlight to scan the river, we spot multiple sets of red-ringed eyes hovering just over the surface of the water, but as we float closer, each wises up to our actions and quickly submerges itself. After a few games of chicken, suddenly, from the bow of the boat, our naturalist Reni signals for the driver to cut the engine and pull over to the left bank of the river. Sure enough, he’s somehow spotted a tiny caiman—one he estimates to be six months old—lazing in the shallow water that laps at the muddy shore. Miraculously, the caiman doesn’t move as we inch towards him and let out pent-up squeals of excitement, shuffling around the skiff so everyone can get a good look.
Post-night safari, back aboard the Delfin III, we’re all off for our second and third showers of the day (it’s humid out here!) before grabbing a pre-dinner Pisco Sour, eating our way through four gourmet regional courses, and settling in for some much needed sleep. Amazonian days are exhausting, but man are they worth it—especially when you have a luxe home base.
Brazil often gets all credit when it comes to the Amazon, but little do most know that the 4,345-mile river and its thousands of tributaries wind their way through Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador—picking up the Andean sediment that lends the water its distinct brown hue—before emptying into the Atlantic via Brazil. This summer, I jetted off to the Peruvian Amazon to explore just a tiny percent of the rainforest and river (which take up a mind-boggling 60 percent of the country) on an immersive luxury cruise—aka the Delfin III.
Departing in Iquitos, just a 2-hour flight northeast of Lima, Delfin picks passengers up at the airport before taking to the city’s lone road for an hour and forty-five minute ride that ends south of the airport in Nauta. The village—not far from the confluence of the area’s three major waterways—the Amazon, Marañon, and Ucayali—is the starting point of our cruise.
On the ride there, myself and other cruisers anxiously fit in the rest of our cell phone use, updating family members on our whereabouts and compulsively checking our Instagrams for any last stray likes. Surprise, surprise—Peru’s remote stretch of jungle isn’t rigged with cell towers. That said, going as off-the-grid as 2017 will allow is a breath of fresh (non-radiation-emitting) air.
Once aboard the 22-room, three-deck Delfin III—the newest ship in Delfin Amazon Cruises’ fleet—we’re given time to explore our cabin and common areas. The ship isn’t quite at capacity, but usually, the Delfin’s 32-man crew dotes hand and foot on 43 guests. Over the course of my trip, I’d come to find out this meant fresh-pressed camu camu, passionfruit, and mango juice after every off-boat excursion; coming back to a spick-and-span suite every afternoon (even if I’d left it a little messy); nightly turn-down service while I was away at dinner; and freshly cleaned sneakers after every jungle walk.
Opening the door to my suite for the first time, I all but gloss over the small seating area, comfy king-size bed, and simple Peruvian decor in lieu of the arresting wall-to-wall windows which look out over the river. After I throw down my things, and stare off into the distance for a couple minutes, I’m off to the third deck where I find a plunge pool and sun deck, the bijou Rainforest spa and gym, and the Canopy Lounge which conceals a lending library and soon-to-be favorite hangout: a bar where enthusiastic bartenders whip up exotic regional cocktails and near-compulsory Pisco Sours. It’s clear I’ll have no trouble settling in here—even sans internet.
That night, after we’ve taken off, it’s also in the lounge that we receive the first of our nightly briefings with info on the day ahead’s activities. My trip falls during dry season (June to October), so the water is roughly 10 to 16 feet lower than it would be in the rainy season (November to May). This means we’re able to explore more terra firma jungle trails, and venture off into the rainforest to explore the flora and fauna on foot.
As I find out the next day, wake up calls happen at 6:30 am on the dot every morning. Once I drag myself from bed and make myself mildly presentable (the Amazon delightfully requires no makeup), it’s time for breakfast (think: fresh fruit platters, western options like pancakes and bacon, and regional dishes like fried plantain and tamales) in the second-deck Andes Dining Room. Like every meal from thereon-out, white-gloved waiters are on hand to take care of everything, and I’m spoiled with a hand-delivered cappuccino. While the atmosphere and service is decidedly upscale—lunch and dinner are four-course affairs with pre-dessert amuse-bouches—no fancy dress is required.
Each day, three naturalist-led excursions form the backbone of our itinerary. While each trip is different—excursions change depending on how accessible a certain area of the route is—wildlife sightings are are at the core of a Delfin day out. The Amazon is home to more plant and animal species than any other terrestrial ecosystem, so for every French bulldog or Shiba Inu I’d normally see on the streets of New York City, I see 10 times that in boa constrictors, tarantulas, long-nosed bats, squirrel monkeys, sloths, saddleback tamarins, caiman, blue and yellow macaw, piranhas, silver and pink river dolphins, and millipedes the size of my freakin’ hand.
Soon enough, each day begins to run into the next (in the best way possible), as we we hike through villages en-route to giant lily pad ponds; go sloth spotting in Pacaya Samiria National Reserve; swim with the dolphins in black water tributaries; and even get blessed by a local shaman. Complimenting every experience is my group’s main-man/naturalist Reni, who provides every tidbit of geographical and historical info we could want.
At the end of my five days, I’ve become all too accustomed to three gourmet Peruvian meals a day, fresh-pressed juices whenever I feel like it, serene facials in the third deck mini-spa, and watching the sunset subtly shift from to pink to purple from the vantage of my bed. Though I would never call myself a high-maintenance traveler (I pride myself on being quite the opposite), pre-Amazon I wouldn’t have categorized myself as an adventure traveler, either. But now, on the opposite side of a once-in-a-lifetime trip, let me tell you— pulling on a pair of knee-high rubber boots and trudging through the rainforest (maybe even touching a few creepy crawlies along the way) is an experience everyone should have.
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